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Cause Marketing: 5 Tips for Creating a Winning Partnership

Sharon Cody, J.D

People want to support the good work you’re doing. You just need to get out there and engage them with your mission. 

Cause marketing is a great way to connect with new supporters because it gives them a chance to do good while doing what they enjoy, whether that means running a 5K, connecting on social media, or buying their favorite cup of coffee on the way to work. 

If you’re ready to take your fundraising to the next level, cause marketing may provide just the boost you’ve been looking for.

What Is Cause Marketing? 

Cause marketing (also known as cause-related marketing) is a collaborative partnership between a for-profit brand and nonprofit organization. It typically involves the for-profit brand soliciting donations on behalf of the nonprofit partner.

This popular subset of corporate social responsibility is mutually beneficial for each party. The for-profit brand usually benefits by aligning their product of service with a force for social good. The nonprofit benefits from all the extra fundraising help. 

5 Tips for Creating a Winning Partnership

The most successful campaigns are built on a sound partnership between the business and nonprofit. The following are five tips to help you forge partnerships that are a win for your nonprofit, your for-profit partner, and most importantly, your mission!

1. Look for a business with a good mission fit.

It may be tempting to say yes to the first opportunity that comes along, but before you jump into a potential partnership, ask yourself: is this really a good fit?

Working with a partner whose mission aligns with your own creates valuable synergy, making the most of your shared interests and overlapping audiences. There’s a good chance that customers of an outdoor brand, for example, will respond to an environmental campaign, or that buyers of children’s goods will engage with an educational mission.

There’s one more advantage of mission fit: it makes it easier to find a suitable partner. Look at the brands your constituents, volunteers, donors, and staff members engage with. Research the companies’ mission statements and values to find suitable matches. There’s a good chance that some of them are looking for opportunities to deepen their corporate social responsibility efforts and engage with a cause like yours.

2. Choose tactics that fit the cause and the audience.

From branded merchandise to charity events, cause marketing opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities for your nonprofit. Working with the marketing staff of your for-profit partner can also invigorate your teams with new perspectives and ideas.

As you consider new fundraising tactics, be sure to carefully evaluate their fit with your mission. If the campaign involves a product, does the product reinforce your social impact goals? If it requires participation in an activity, is the activity accessible to customers and constituents?

Location, costs, inputs, means of production, means of delivery—all of these variables can have social and political implications. It’s important to ensure that your tactics send the right message and align with the values of your target audiences and your organization.

3. Take steps to ensure a compliant campaign.

Another key aspect to forming a successful partnership is ensuring that your campaign meets state regulatory requirements. These requirements protect nonprofits and the public from predatory contracts and subpar results.

Twenty-four states have requirements for commercial co-ventures, which are cause partnerships that involve sharing revenue from a commercial activity. Six states—Alabama, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and South Carolina—require the for-profit partner to apply for a co-venture license. Other states may require filing of the contract, advertising disclosures, state-specific language to be included in the contract, or financial reporting. Both partners should ensure that all of these requirements are met for each campaign they engage in.

In addition, commercial co-ventures are considered charitable solicitation in most states, so nonprofits must meet relevant charitable solicitation registration and disclosure requirements. Often charity officials confirm the nonprofit’s registration status as part of their review of commercial co-venture filings. These regulatory requirements should be considered early in the co-venture process to ensure ample time for completing and submitting the paperwork.

Be sure to share your compliance efforts with pride in promotional materials and other campaign communications. Consumers are looking for trust factors when contributing to charitable causes. By being fully registered with state charity officials and including proper disclosures with your solicitations, you can reassure participants that the campaign is legitimate and encourage higher levels of support.

4. Review contracts carefully and set expectations.

Your co-venture contract should clearly spell out how the proceeds from the campaign will benefit the charitable cause. In many states, co-venture contracts must be filed with the state charities bureau, generally within a specific period before the campaign is launched.

Many states also require specific language to be used in the contract. If the language of your co-venture contract doesn’t align with these requirements, the state will simply reject it. To avoid last-minute scrambling, look into these requirements early as you plan your campaign.

5. Track financials and meet reporting requirements.

Many states also require co-venturers to submit a financial report detailing the results of the campaign, usually within a certain number of days of its conclusion. Generally, each campaign will require a separate report, although there are exceptions. Once again, it’s important to look for the specific requirements of a given state and ensure that both parties are fulfilling them.

Fundraising software can make the task of tracking campaign results far easier.

Venture Forth With Confidence!

You’ve done the work of setting up a compliant, engaging campaign. Now you can reap the benefits and enjoy the fun! And if your campaign is successful, you might find that cause marketing finds a permanent place among your fundraising programs. If you would like help ensuring that your commercial co-venture meets state requirements, get in touch with Harbor Compliance. They prepare and complete state filings for fundraising registration, charitable solicitation disclosures, co-venture contracts, co-venture financial reports, co-venture disclosures, and many other aspects of nonprofit compliance.

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